Monday, January 23, 2012

To Be Or Not To Be...A Vegetarian...

Even as a youngster, I felt like I was a vegetarian at heart. As a child, although I ate meat (being Greek-Cypriot, that meant all sorts of meat!), a twinge of guilt always followed. I suspect it came from the time I'd spent a few months in Cyprus with my grandparents on their farm. One of the duties I shared with my brother was looking after a few of the animals. One very special animal was a baby goat, lovingly named "Moro" ("kid" in Greek...not original, but adorable, right?). After months of feeding, caressing, and loving this creature, time came for us to come back home to Toronto, and the night before our departure, a feast was prepared in our honour. Any guess as to what the main course was? The greatest symbol of love for my grandmother was to feed us well, so although her intentions were awesome, that experience led to a seed having been planted in my little heart and soul.

My juvenile self didn't realize just how much the experience of Moro being sacrificed for us affected me. As an urban, North American kid, I equated the word "animal" with "pet." The guilt of having been the root at Moro's death was so powerful that by the time I was 14, I attempted to become a vegetarian. Then I got a part time job after school working at Harvey's. The food was free, and my first stint as a vegetarian lasted 2 weeks. The kid in me, and the offer of free food was too much for me to stick with it.

Then, in my early 20s, I decided I was going to try again. I quit eating meat! I felt proud of myself, and it was easy! Of course, anything feels "easy" when you don't think there's any preparation required. All I did was stop eating meat. I never learned how to be a healthy vegetarian and was oblivious to the consequences of not substituting the lost protein and other nutrients. I remained a (bad, uneducated) vegetarian for more than a decade. I put on about 30 pounds and didn't feel fantastic. Of course, I ate fruits and vegetables, but I really didn't put any thought into what I was eating, only that I was eating at all. I ate refined starches, and pasta became my staple. Oops. It seems so elementary that I'm almost embarrassed to even admit that! But it was my reality.

Then I started studying nutrition. Most of my life I had struggled with an eating disorder and needed to develop a healthier relationship with food, regardless of my ethical motivations to become a vegeterian. Add to that ill family members and a health care system I was losing faith in, and I became an avid nutrition student. I was mortified at how badly I'd been treating myself. Although I learned that it was possible to be healthy and a vegetarian, I incorporated meat back into my diet in order to quickly repair some of the damage I'd caused (malnourishment, low blood pressure, and iron deficiency, for starters), starting with fish and bison.

Here I am, a few years later, and I'm once again treading on the cusp of vegetarianism. I haven't made the commitment fully. Meat still occasionally graces my plate (especially at family functions), but I'm at a different, healthier and more secure place in my life now. I'm fully aware of the all of the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle on the environment and economy. My main motivation will always be the lack of respect and ill-treatment of animals by most of the meat processing industry--even as a young vegetarian I used to tell people that if I'd been alive a couple of hundred years ago, it would never have occurred to me to become a vegetarian because the respect that went along with using the flesh of an animal for nourishment was inherent. There was an air of gratitude when an animal was offered up for a meal. It's the reason I would never fault a compassionate farmer (like my grandparents) for eating the animals they raised.

It all really comes down to two things: 1) being educated about how to properly nourish yourself, and 2) listening to your body's needs. Although I wish I knew this 15 years ago, It's Never Too Late to Feel Great!!!

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